"I don’t mind opinions and stuff. I get it. But I don’t try to drive anything home; I’m just trying to be funny. I’m not here to change anybody’s mind."
– Nate Bargatze
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Nate?
Nate Bargatze: Hey.
GM: Guy MacPherson in Vancouver.
NB: What’s up, man?
GM: How are you? I’m good.
NB: I’m good. I’m in West Palm Beach, Florida.
GM: Visiting or performing?
NB: Performing. We’re doing some shows for the troupes again. We went to Greenland, then El Salvador, Honduras. We have a day off here then we go tomorrow to the Bahamas and I fly home Saturday.
GM: What’s in Greenland?
NB: It’s pretty amazing. I thought nothing, so you’re thinking what’s the point of people being up there? But it’s a first response. If there’s ever an attack, like a nuclear attack or a bomb or something shot at America, they’re the first ones to know. Or for Canada, too. So if one comes over this way, they’re the first ones.
GM: Then we all escape to Greenland if we’re attacked because no one’s there.
NB: That’s the plan!
GM: How many of these type tours have you done?
NB: This is, I think, my seventh one now. They’re pretty awesome.
GM: So you’ve been all over the world.
NB: Basically. There, Bahrain, Djibouti, Africa, then Iraq and Kuwait. And Guam.
GM: You’re a family guy. You’ve got a wife and kid.
NB: We just had a kid, yup. She is four months old. July 8th.
GM: Now are you thinking twice about going on things, potentially putting your life at risk when you’ve got a kid at home? Or is it more like you want to make some money for your kid?
NB: You wanna go make some money. But I still want to go do this stuff because it’s important. But now when I go, I do miss being at home. This is like ten days and I don’t want to be gone ten days if I don’t have to. I don’t mind doing clubs and stuff on weekends. Like Vancouver’s like Thursday, come back Sunday. That’s fine.
GM: How long have you been married?
NB: Seven years.
GM: To a civilian.
NB: To a civilian. We’ve been together since I started comedy. I was 21 when we got together. I’m 33 now so almost 12 years.
GM: She’s from Chicago?
NB: No, she’s from Alabama.
GM: Oh, but she was in Chicago when you were there?
NB: No. We met in Nashville, then I moved to Chicago to start comedy and we just did long distance for about four years.
GM: Interesting. You were in a relationship then said, ‘Hey, I gotta go try this’ and she said, ‘All right.’
NB: Yup. Yup, she’s been very cool about the whole thing and luckily it kinda worked out where I got some stuff where it at least looked like I was doing what I should be doing.
GM: It’s nice that you can share your success with someone.
NB: It is. It’s great. And we both got to do it all from the beginning, the same thing. It’s not like I was a comic and met her at a club; it was all from the very beginning when I wasn’t funny.
GM: You were always funny, just not professionally. It’s a different thing being funny professionally, isn’t it?
NB: It’s very different. Sometimes you get people come up to you and talk to you. Most people are very polite but then occasionally you get people that’ll be drunk and they’re like, ‘I can do this. You’re not funnier than me.’ But there’s a complete difference. It’s easier to be funny with your friends because they know you. It’s tough when you have people that don’t know you because you’ve got to make them get you and laugh at you and have fun. So it’s a completely different thing, yeah.
GM: Is one more enjoyable than the other? Because there’s nothing better than sitting around and making your friends laugh, right?
NB: No, no, it’s the best. Especially hanging out with comics, it’s so fun. You just die laughing with each other. But there is something great about making strangers… Like, sometimes you do a show and you hear strangers really dying laughing and it makes you laugh. It’s almost like you can’t believe they’re laughing that much. That’s a pretty amazing thing. I’ll be doing a show and it’s going really good but I’ll hear like a few people laughing harder than the rest and those are the times you’re like, those people get me completely. There’s like a couple a show so I gotta go find them and get them all to meet up in one place and record something with those people. Just those, no one else.
GM: Does your wife have a good sense of humour?
NB: She does. She’s very funny. When we first met, she made me laugh. She does little stuff that’s very funny to me. And she’s funny on Facebook. All her friends talk about stuff that she says that’s really funny. But she’s scared to death to talk in front of people so hopefully she won’t take over my job.
GM: So she’s like one of the obnoxious people who say, ‘I’m funnier than you.’
NB: Yeah, yeah. That’s what she tells me every morning.
GM: It’s an interesting thing. You must know people, like your wife, who you think are really funny but they just don’t have the urge, or the balls, to go up on stage.
NB: Yeah, yeah. There’s plenty of people. That’s the weird thing: Everybody can be funny. Everybody’s been funny. I had a friend who was not funny but he would make me laugh at just how unfunny he was. So it is the one thing that everybody can do and everybody does do with each other. So it’s just a matter of doing it. I tell a lot of people the difference between me and most people is I did it. For whatever reason you do it or you don’t go do it.
GM: It’s like sports. I play basketball but I couldn’t turn pro.
NB: Yeah, but there isn’t that much of a leap. Like, when you see LeBron James, you’re like, ‘Well, I can’t do that because I’m not 6-9.’ It’s a freak of nature how big some of those guys are. We don’t have that.
GM: I was at your show last year at the Comedy MIX.
NB: Yes, I remember meeting you.
GM: I’m trying to remember. During that show, was that when there was that screaming fit in the back with women fighting?
NB: Yes. They lost it. And they went to the back area by the green room and they just kept yelling at each other. There was another fight, too, but it was after the show.
GM: Oh yeah? Is this a common occurrence at your shows?
NB: Not really. You know what’s funny, talking about heckling, I don’t think I really get heckled much . It doesn’t happen as much as people think, like the typical what you think heckling might be where someone yells, ‘You suck!’ That doesn’t always happen. What happens is just people are talking. They just don’t pay attention. They’re talking and they’re being loud and then it has to be addressed. That does happen quite a bit. Usually it’s going to be a Friday or Saturday show when people are drinking. Usually Friday late shows are the worst. Steve Martin said he quit comedy because of Friday late shows.
GM: I don’t know if that’s true because he was playing arenas by that point.
NB: Yeah, well that’s just like a quote. But on Fridays, people work so they’re tired, then they drink a lot and it doesn’t pan out. So people talk and they get drunk. It’s annoying. I try to not talk to them. I don’t try to draw any attention to them. As much as I can. I’d rather just move on. It’s hard sometimes because I can hear everybody on stage. Sometimes I can hear people that other people can’t hear. Sometimes it gets to a point where you have to address it because it messes up… I can’t even think. All you’re doing is hearing them just chatting away. And that’s usually when they sit up front. That’s the worst.
GM: When that happened, I was impressed with how in the moment you were. You weren’t in a hurry to get to your stuff, you just let it ride. Is being in the moment something you had to learn or has it come naturally to you?
NB: I’ll try to plow through if it’s little. I’ll try to talk louder and hopefully, if they’re good people, they’re realize they’re talking loud. That way you don’t have to disrupt the show and mess everything up. But in a situation like that one, there’s no way… That’s all anyone’s looking at. If you don’t draw attention to that, people are not going to pay attention. I don’t think I’m the best at crowd work. I just have to rely on instincts, so if it happens naturally, just go with it.
GM: Even if there’s no heckling or situation in the crowd, you’re in the moment in that you’re relaxed and if you hear or see something, you’ll let it soak in rather than going by rote. You have a nice, relaxed speaking pace. When you were starting out, were you more panicky? It takes a lot of confidence to have those pauses.
NB: Yeah, definitely I was. I’ve always talked slower than everybody. Growing up in the south, we have a slower pace. Some people speed up and have to slow down but I’ve never had that problem because I just naturally talk slower. Even when I think I’m talking fast, no one ever goes, ‘Man, you were flying.’ In my head, it’ll be faster than I normally talk but it’s still not as fast as I think it is. But the pausing, sometimes I’ll go on stage and I’ll start kinda weird and slow down at the very beginning because I’ll follow people that are very funny or very fast so I need to get everybody into my rhythm so it’s like, ‘Alright, we’re making a change.’ If I try to match whatever they do, I can’t do that. It won’t come off right. So you just do a nice pause. And I’ve been doing this almost ten years so I have jokes that I know are 99% going to work. And they’re quick jokes and they just kinda work with everybody. It’s not a long story or something. So I have confidence I’m not going to lose them. That’s when you can pause, like, ‘I can get you back. Everything’s fine.’
GM: When did you start to headline and tour?
NB: I think my first headlining was actually in Canada. It was in Montreal. It was about 2008. Then I would do it here and there after that but never a lot. So I think consistently it has been the past couple years where I’m pretty much now just headlining. If I open for anybody, it will be a big act.
GM: I heard you on Maron’s podcast.
NB: Oh, awesome, yeah. That was awesome to do, for him to let me do that.
GM: I’m curious to know about the Maron effect. Like back when Johnny Carson would have somebody on and it would boost their career, or not. Did you notice anything significant or different after doing the show.
NB: I did. I told Maron that exactly, that idea of saying it’s kind of like a newer version of Carson.
GM: Oh, was that you? I listen to them all and they all blend together.
NB: Yeah. I feel like Carson got everybody. Because everybody watched Carson. There were like three channels so that’s all anybody watched. So now with Maron, obviously it’s not everybody but it’s the people that want to watch comedy. So even though it’s smaller, he’s the guy right now. He interviews everybody, from Jud Apatow to me. The range is so far. I think it helped. My name got out there more. He has so many listeners so I guess people just knew my name more. And it helps with other comics. I think it gives you some credit. It’s more clout with other comedians. And it’s great because it’s not like stand-up; it’s your background so people are going to learn about you. It’s not like no one knows you. I think they really get to know who you are, in a sense.
GM: Carson used to give his sign of approval with an invitation to the couch or an okay sign. You kind of got that with Maron because he kept talking about how funny you were, even beyond that episode, and how much you make him laugh. So there was that added boost, too: “Wow, Maron really likes this guy. I’m gonna check him out.”
NB: Yeah, yeah. That was enormous. He’s been so nice to me. It’s funny how comedy works in the sense where I just randomly did a festival and he saw me and was nice enough to tweet about me and has been very complimentary. Yeah, it was amazing. That could be the most helpful thing that I’ve had in comedy. Because all the other stuff is kinda great, but to really get vouched for is a big deal.
GM: You guys talked a bit about your dad, the magician. Magicians kind of get a bad rap but I have a soft spot for them, probably because I liked them as a kid. Are you a big defender of magicians?
NB: Oh, yeah, yeah. My dad’s been doing it for 35 years. He was just in London. They got back yesterday. He was ranked as one of the top funny magicians in the world, voted one of the top 30 funniest. I mean, my dad’s really good. If magic was bigger than it is, where you’re famous, he would be very famous. But there’s like five who are very famous. So I do defend ‘em. I’ve met a lot of them and it’s amazing stuff that they do. And my dad is very funny. It’s funny to grow up with it. It’s never been anything out of the ordinary to me after seeing it regularly my whole life.
GM: Is he based in Nashville?
GM: He must be thrilled with your success.
NB: Yeah, very thrilled. That’s what’s so great, my parents are so supportive the whole time I’ve done it. My dad’s completely on board with it and has been from the very beginning. And they get it. My mom has been there and watched my dad, now she’s watching me. It’s awesome and it’s exciting and it’s very fun to get to call him and tell him when stuff happens to me.
GM: Does he offer advice?
NB: Yeah. He’ll give me tags to jokes and stuff. Or ideas. And I’ll ask him advice about the road, like booking stuff or whatever. But we started in different times. When he started, it was the ‘70s and there was the comedy boom. But he always told me to do standup instead of magic because he has to carry around so much stuff everywhere he travels. If we’re ever together, I’m just walking around with nothing and he has suitcases of magic tricks.
GM: When you were in your early twenties and reading metres, or whatever you were doing for work, was he giving you guidance then?
NB: I think he was happy I was working. I was already out of college, already flunked out of college. So the job I had there was a good job. The benefits were good, the pay was fine. But then when I said I wanted to do comedy, he was like, ‘Aw, that’s great.’ And they just let me do it the whole time. He never pushed us in any way. Just very happy with whatever. Whatever we were doing, he just wanted us to be a normal person growing up, not some lunatic.
GM: Your material is clean but it’s not overtly so, where you immediately pick up on it.
NB: That’s exactly how I want it to be. I don’t want you to think about it. It shouldn’t matter. Same with the dirty comics. It’s not about the dirtiness. I shouldn’t be. It should all be about funny. It doesn’t matter how you say it; just make it funny.
GM: The last time I wrote about Brian Regan, I didn’t even mention that he’s clean because I’m sick of it. I’m sick of hearing about it. When it’s mentioned, I don’t like either outcome: either people will like you because you’re clean, or they won’t like you because of that.
NB: If somebody’s like, ‘He’s not dirty enough for me,’ that doesn’t even make sense. The ideas are the same.
GM: Was it a conscious decision to work that way?
NB: We grew up in a Christian house and were never really allowed to watch anything. I watched clean comedy growing up. And my dad’s clean. So it’s just what I grew up around. So it just went that way. I don’t really come up with dirty stuff. When you start, whichever way your mind goes could be the way you’re going to write. It’s kind of the way you’re going to be the rest of the way.
GM: Do you curse in real life?
NB: Yeah, yeah. I just don’t do it on the stage. Or in front of my parents.
GM: I interviewed Jim Breuer a couple weeks ago and he’s recently made the switch to family-friendly stuff because his daughters were looking him up online and he realized, ‘I can’t let them watch this!’
NB: Yeah. I like when my wife’s family – her brother’s a pastor, her dad’s a pastor – so it’s nice that they can watch stuff. But I have a joke about prostitutes and I’ve done that joke in front of my parents. So some of it’s darker but all in all it is nice that everybody can watch it.
GM: You grew up in a southern conservative Christian house. Are you still that?
NB: Uh, yeah.
GM: But we don’t see that on stage. Is that too dividing?
NB: Yeah, especially in New York. You say that kind of stuff and people think you’re an animal. And I’m not the most political person. And I don’t try to force it. I was raised like that. If you watch comedy, I never been in the type of comedy where it’s like – I don’t mind opinions and stuff; like, I get it. I don’t try to drive anything home; I’m just trying to be funny. And I’m not a celebrity, but I like when you don’t know who big celebrities vote for. It’s like, who cares? You don’t want to end up not liking someone that you did like because now you find out they’re way against whatever you believe in. I’m not here to change anybody’s mind.
GM: So you voted for Romney is what you’re saying!
NB: (laughs) Yeah, long story short.
GM: (laughs) Could you have become a southern comic?
NB: Well, I moved up north. I guess I could have stayed down there. I would love to do all the southern stuff but when I moved to Chicago it all just kinda happened. I’m really glad I did. When I look at it, I’m a New York comic just because that’s where I got all my chops. I think the best comics end up going to New York. You just can go on stage so much and you can get so good just watching other guys. It’s just a faster pace. I’d like to go back to the south but I’m glad I went to New York so it’s not like what people think of southern comedy.
GM: We think of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
NB: Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to not be associated with it. I’m very pro-south. I’m from the south and I love the south. I don’t like when you see southern comics go up in the north and just make fun of the south. I don’t like to talk down about it, like, ‘Down in the south they’re a bunch of redneck idiots.’ No, they’re not. I’d imagine there are probably Canadian comics who leave Canada then trash Canada. Why are you not happy where you’re from? Same way about being clean, it’s an afterthought.
GM: I like that you are who you are, in that you’re saying you’re a southern conservative Christian, you’re clean, and I read that you have a fondness for Sinbad. There seems to be in a lot of the comedy circles a sort of groupthink about who or what’s acceptable to like, and who not to like. I like that you just say you think Sinbad is great, when many wouldn’t.
NB: He’s amazing. I remember watching Afros and Bellbottoms. It was one of the first stand-up specials I watched. It was the most unbelievable thing I remember seeing. It was so funny. And you know what’s funny? People will say that about Sinbad until they work with him and then they see how funny he is. I haven’t seen him. I saw his last special and I haven’t even seen him live; I just always have liked him. But I’ve seen guys who’ve worked with him and then they change. They’re like, ‘Oh. Nevermind. He’s the real deal.’
GM: I’ll tell you, that was my experience. He was a guy I saw on TV all the time and I couldn’t stand him. Everything about him I didn’t like. I didn’t like the way he dressed, I didn’t like the way he talked, I didn’t like his jokes. And then he came to Vancouver a few years ago and he blew me away. I thought this is why the guy is famous.
NB: Yeah, incredible. It’s ridiculous. I think it’s like the idea of people liking Bill Hicks. Not that he’s not great but they’re like, ‘Bill, he was saying something.’ Everything’s got to be about saying something. How about just being funny? Brian Regan’s about the only one I feel like that does get respect across the board. I don’t know if I’ve heard anyone say anything bad about him. He’s so funny that no one can say anything. Too many comics are concerned with saying something. Who cares?! You don’t even have to say something; just be funny. I can laugh at anything if it’s funny. If you get into a thing where you’re preachy, then you get in that crowd that agrees with you so you’re just with people that agree with you. It’s just like a rally: ‘Am I right everyone?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes, you’re right.’
GM: Now that you mention it, Regan may be the beneficiary of that kind of groupthink, too, because the leaders in the community all say how great he is so everybody goes, ‘Yeah, he’s great.’
NB: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. That’s true. That’s what I always thought with Hicks. Young comics will come up and be like, ‘Yeah, Bill Hicks was great.’ And I’m like, I bet you haven’t seen him. Not that he’s not great. But no one wants to say anything that’s going to be weirdly different. That’s the dumbest thing, like if you say you like Sinbad, that’s so weird and stupid.
GM: My nephew is around your age and he’s a hip-hop guy. And two days ago he posted on Facebook about liking Jay Leno’s Headlines. And I’m not a Jay Leno fan but I appreciated that he was brave enough to say he liked him because all his friends responded how Leno sucks. Because that's—
NB: Yeah, the thing to do.
GM: And he responded, ‘But Headlines is funny.’
NB: I agree with you completely. I love little stuff like that. I agree with you. I love when, especially like a kid, that’s what I want to tell my daughter: just be yourself. If you say you like stuff… Like, I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan. The music I like is the music everybody hates for whatever reason. I like Nickelback. I’m not into music because I know a lot about it. I just listen to whatever people hate. I don’t know. But just enjoy what you like and if you do that, you stand out more than anything. And then you realize, too, that everybody else likes it. The stuff people hate is famous so someone likes it. So I agree, I love stuff like that, like your nephew saying that. That’s awesome.